Sustainable IT: How Green Tech Solutions Reduce the SMB Footprint

Green is more than just a color: it’s a necessity.

Being green isn’t just something that happens after eating bad food or the subject of a song popularized by a famous Muppet – it’s an essential skill for today’s IT workers.

Green information technology is essential for any data-intensive business as energy sources become more scarce and costly. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that utility costs for U.S. computer servers were $7.4 billion in 2010, up from $4.5 billion only five years earlier.

Servers run hotter today than a few years ago to process mushrooming petabytes of information from the cascading video, audio and other data running among businesses and among consumers.

Cost is only one concern. In some areas of the country, there is no more power to be had – at any price. Therefore, companies now expect their IT managers and, increasingly, IT workers become green information technology experts, both in terms of understanding available sustainable IT and operating their organizations as energy efficiently as possible.

Sustainable IT falls short

Truly sustainable information technology is still elusive in most areas and is largely geographically dependent:

  • Solar power, while it has come a long way in the last few years, can only produce a portion of a data center’s energy needs. For example, the Emerson Electric plant in St. Louis, Mo., has every inch of its roof covered with solar panels, yet it supplies only 13 percent of the data center’s needs.

  • Geothermal power supplies all of the energy needs of many IT-dependent businesses - like in Iceland, where it is readily abundant. But such resources are much more scarce in the U.S.

  • Hydroelectric power is a good source of sustainable energy but only helps those companies in the close geographic proximity of its source.

  • Wind power technology is still in its infant stages, and it can only provide a very modest percentage of the energy needed for a data-intensive business.

Green IT strategies

Yet there are several green information technology strategies that the IT manager can pursue to help a company reduce its carbon footprint:

Turn up the thermostat: Conventional wisdom at one time was to place data processing equipment in a cold room so systems didn’t overheat. While heat is still an enemy of computers and servers, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers now recommends that data centers can run as warm as 81 degrees without damaging equipment, compared to 68 degrees less than 10 years ago.

Take advantage of Mother Nature: Knowing that equipment can run hotter, you can implement natural air cooling whenever possible. Particle filtering systems have improved over the last few years to keep harmful particles out of the air. Data-intensive businesses as far south as San Antonio find they can use natural air cooling to lower their energy costs.

Take inventory: Take "turn off the light when you leave the room" a quantum leap forward. Determine which equipment is in use. Machines that are rarely used may not be worth keeping around; they tend to run much slower and less efficiently. Depending on budget constraints, new equipment will be more efficient in terms of speed and energy usage, making them worth the investment.

Use virtualization whenever possible: Newer, more powerful equipment can replace multiple older machines. One virtualized server can replace as many as 10 other servers, resulting in a greener information technology system.

Use the cloud: After checking the equipment usage, you might find that much of it is only used occasionally - like at the end of a pay period or at the end of the month. Why own all of those machines, and all of the energy consumption with it, when it’s rarely needed? Cloud-based data processing and storage provide scalability, rapid deployment and minimal capital investment for businesses because they pay for services on an as-needed basis and don’t have the ongoing overhead cost of underutilized equipment.

Understanding the energy challenges and some of the solutions to meet them will be considered a critical skill for the IT professional of the future.

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